On January 18th, 2018, Maya Gabeira surfed the biggest wave she has ever surfed. It was, of course, at Nazaré, that famed Portuguese big wave spot that nearly took her life in October of 2013. Now, she’s started a petition calling on the World Surf League to lend a hand in establishing a world record. “In order to establish a world record, I need the World Surf League to certify the measurement of the wave,” she writes. “For some reason, the WSL has ignored my request.”
Gabeira’s recovery since that fateful day when she almost lost her life five years ago has been a long one. She’s been surfing big waves since she was 18 years old, but she took a bit of a different route to get there. Unlike many, she threw herself into the ring before she had the chance to work her way up to it. With the help of Carlos Burle, she found her footing in waves that most people will never surf. “She was only 19,” Burle told The Inertia a few years ago. “I didn’t know her that well, but I’d surfed with her a few times in Hawaii, and I could tell from her reactions on waves that she knew what she was doing.” From those few times, Burle made an assessment. “She had good confidence, and she looked like she was having fun. That’s when I thought, ‘I think I can work with this girl.’” He spoke with his sponsor, Red Bull, to get their take on it. “You know,” he told them, “she doesn’t have the same skills as a lot of the guys. We’re not going to be the best tow team in the world, but I really want to put time into this because she loves to do it.”
In the following years, she faced a large amount of criticism for her perceived lack of basic surfing skills. Gabeira, however, took it all on the chin. With five Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards and an ESPY that named her the best female action-sports athlete, she proved that the naysayers weren’t going to stop her. And now she wants a world record.
“Since I was a girl, I have dreamed of the day I would see a woman recognized in the Guinness Book for big wave surfing,” she explains. “…in January of this year, after five years of recovery and training, I successfully rode the biggest wave of my life. Miguel Moreira, an expert at the University in Lisbon, measured the wave and tells me that it is indeed a world record.”
In order for Gabeira to submit her wave to the Guinness Book of World Records, however, the World Surf League has to certify it. Gabeira flew to Los Angeles to talk about it “where they promised to support a world record for women.” Now, however, Gabeira says she’s being ignored. “Many months later, there appears to be no progress and my emails have gone unanswered,” she writes. “I’m not sure what’s going on, (but there are definitely some people who don’t like the idea of women surfing the biggest waves.) Anyways, perhaps I haven’t been able to scream loud enough?”
A World Surf League representative who asked to remain anonymous has a different take. According to him, they’re working on it. “The WSL has been discussing the review process with Guinness regarding Maya’s wave for the past couple of months,” he wrote in an email.
The World Surf League’s official statement echoes that sentiment. “We have a huge amount of respect for all our big wave surfers,” it says. “We have been in active discussions with Guinness for some time on the topic of reviewing Maya’s incredible ride from Nazare earlier this year for submission, and look forward to continuing to celebrate men’s and women’s big wave surfing with an announcement soon.”
The petition is quickly gaining steam. With a goal of 7,500 signatures, at the time of this writing, it needs only 1,000 more. Although Maya Gabeira is asserting that the World Surf League is ignoring her, their stance is that they’re working on it—and there’s a good chance the petition is going to make them work harder.